BEIRUT: In times of rising corruption and bureaucracy, the right for any individual to access information that is held by regimes and private performers is more crucial than ever.
For that reason, Lebanese ministers, policymakers, associations, activists, and civil society members gathered to celebrate the International Day for Universal Access to Information on Monday, at Monroe Hotel in Beirut, where prospects and challenges of implementing the law were discussed at a conference entitled “International Day for Universal Access to Information: Prospects and Challenges of Implementing the Right to Access Information Law.”
During the first session, MP George Okais, Former MP Ghassan Mkhaiber, representative of the Ministry of Justice Judge Mireille Dawood, and moderator and Executive Director of the Lebanese Transparency Association-No Corruption Mr. Julien Courson were the panelists who concentrated on the role of the executive and the judiciary in guaranteeing the right of access to information in their discourse.
This was followed by an extended dialog between Mr. Ziad Abdel Samad, the moderator and the Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development; Mrs. Natacha Sarkis, who works at UNDP and is an Officer at Anti-Corruption and Minister of State for Administrative Reforms (OMSAR); Mrs. Racha Abou Zaki, a Journalist and Economic researcher; and Mr. Ayman Dandach, a Programs and Grassroots Manager at the Lebanese Transparency Association-No Corruption.
The panelists debated the “Right To Access to Information Law,” but this time from the CSOs and media perspective aiming to show the audience how a valid number of journalists are unable to reach or demand any basic transparent and concrete information from the government due to the existence of corrupted and bureaucratic employees who are trying to conceal them for unjustified reasons.
“This year, we celebrate the International Day for Universal Access to Information, and we are just a few months away from the third anniversary of the Lebanese Parliament's vote on the right to access to information law in February 2017,” said Dr. Mosbah Majzoub, representative of the Lebanese Transparency Association-No Corruption mentioned.
“Three years and the National Anti-Corruption Commission hasn’t been established yet. Three years and a decree of this law wasn’t issued,” he added.
Eight years have passed and the Lebanese government has yet to adopt the national anti-corruption strategy despite its accession to the UN Convention against Corruption in 2009.
And in spite of all the efforts, most of the institutions concerned with the law are still not committed to its implementation in Lebanon.
“Knowledgeable societies must be built based on four pillars: freedom of expression, universal access to information and knowledge, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, and quality education for all,” Dr. Hamad Bin Seif El Hmami, the director at the UNESCO Regional Office for Education-Beirut, said.
Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) Dr. May Chidiac is working to improve and activate digital technology. She believes that this digital transformation, which is witnessing an unprecedented development in our time, might lead to the emergence of new forms of inequality affecting the most vulnerable groups in our societies today.
“Therefore, in order to avoid these risks, digital development must be accompanied by the adoption of relevant legislation, the most important of which is the right to access information adopted by Lebanon in 2017,” she argued.
Universal access to information promotes transparency, accountability, and above all, it leads to efficient governance. It also helps citizens equip themselves when expressing any opinion freely or when engaging in the public sphere. Therefore, universal access to information is an indivisible part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
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